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I once got paid to spend the summer telling lies to little kids. I ran a mountain man program at a district Boy Scout camp. I told my guests I was born in my log cabin and I traded for everything I had. Late evenings I shot muzzleloader rifles with campers and then told ghost stories around the fire. Oh, how I wish that would pay enough to be my career instead of just a one-time summer job.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Captain Destructo's Crimes

    Captain Destructo was pissed. He paced his lair fuming at this recent turn of events. Ever since the jocks in high school harassed him, he started planning his revenge. He decided in college that he would study computers and programming so he could wreak havoc on the internet. His plan was to cause humiliation to his tormentors and generally vandalize other people through the net. He was so focused on his plans, that his course of actions had brought him here. He turned down good opportunities, but it was worth it if his hard work caused the humiliation and confusion for which he’d hoped.

    But somehow, each of his cyber attacks ended up backfiring. It all started with the pictures of fellow WalMart customers. His intention was to embarrass those who weren’t that style-forward. One of the bullies who picked on him dressed like the Fonz even though it was the 80s. The community of high school geeks all comforted each other by talking about “the Fonz” behind his back, so Destructo figured this would continue. But the cool people ate it up. They turned the site into pictures of very extreme fashion sense and entertainment. The people in the pictures were supposed to be embarrassed by being 30 years out of style, but instead they enjoyed the attention and got to showcase senses of style that were very far removed from the mainstream.

    Fine, but he figured out another way to post humiliating pictures of his tormentors. He created a website where viewers would vote on whether a person were hot or not. But there was some special code that he added to the picture uploader to change some of the facial characteristics. Those who were so absorbed in looking good ended up average, downright ugly in some cases. He was really proud of this script, because it reversed the facial characteristics of his victims. That backfired, too. The good-looking ones got to laugh at each other, even at themselves when they saw what the pictures looked like on that site. They even turned it into a game. Whoever submitted the best picture of themselves usually ended up looking the worst, so they started keeping score. Whoever was voted the ugliest in a week won. At least there was one positive side effect. Since this reversed general facial characteristics, some of the more plain-looking people ended up looking like models. They got a real confidence boost seeing their “hot” score going up. That was great for his friends, but somehow still caused real anguish to him. He turned and looked at the framed picture of his senior prom. He’d taken Emily Fefferman, who was constantly told by the “in” crowd how ugly she was. He fell in love that night as she sobbed on his shoulder. Looking at them in their glasses and rented clothing, he could still feel the warmth of her tears on his neck. Stuck to the corner of the frame was a wedding announcement. Chuck Williams, “Big Bill” as he was called when he was the captain of the football team and biggest stud on campus, saw her picture on the hot/not site. It was her, but of course supermodel her. Big Bill remembered her kindness when he needed a tutor, so when he saw her online he contacted her to apologize for being a prick. Well, now she was Mrs. Big Bill with two little Big Bills and a little Big Feff on the way. Destructo slammed the picture frame against the dirt floor of his lair.

    That taken from him, he decided he’d create a phony online encyclopedia. He would leave it open-source so other tormented souls could post embarrassing faux articles about their bullies. It worked great at first, but then one geek shared the URL with the wrong person. It absolutely exploded in popularity. Experts could share info about their fields of study. Major discoveries in the scientific field could be shared with researchers and the general public almost immediately. The encyclopedia took on a life of its own, and since anybody could update articles, it was becoming a quite authoritative resource for everybody. Sure, he could open up an article and change the content, but almost immediately somebody more knowledgeable would come along and correct it. He laughed with wicked glee when he made himself and Emily homecoming king and queen, but was crushed when Emily herself corrected it almost immediately without anybody else noticing.

    When he saved enough to buy Photoshop, he really started abusing photos of his classmates. Destructo had hours upon hours of glee vandalizing photos from his yearbook and circulating the pictures among his fellow geeks, but once again one geek shared it with the wrong person. Now people were using his site to post disasters from Photoshop. Users of the site got feedback on how to be better at Photoshop and viewers of the site got to laugh non-stop.

    Then, he found a way to both embarrass the bullies and disrupt their online commerce. Destructo had helped a friend named Craig set up a local online auction site. He told Craig he’d do it for free. He put a back door into the programming code and then added a little bit of mischief. One bully went on to be a wildlife photographer who occasionally sold pictures online, so Destructo tagged his name with code that would change the text for his posts. Who would want to buy a picture from a guy who called the striped big cats lions? Well, that worked once, but backfired afterward. The tag malfunctioned, so now random ads about tigers, regardless of who posted them, had the text changed to say “lions”. Some people laughed at the photographer who didn’t know the proper names of big cats, but they stopped laughing when they saw his stunning photography. His business started booming.

    Destructo really should not have set up the auction site for free. He was left out in the cold when it went national. He kept vandalizing Craig’s auction site to work out his frustration. He added code that would randomly replace dollar signs that were followed by numbers with the word “free”. He set up fake ads to get strangers to call his old classmates, but that didn’t seem to work. He didn’t know that nobody wanted the types of stuff he listed, like the boat that had decayed so much, it was just a boat-shaped sandbox. The bot he created to trick bullies into asking his computer for a blind date appeared on his end to be working, but just came out as gibberish. The only things that seemed to work as designed were segments that changed spelling, word order, and pictures associated with an ad. Those ads came out as complete gibberish, but that victory was short-lived. Sitting in front of him was the site that turned his success into yet more failure. Destructo got up and, staring at the site that poked fun at his mangled ads, began yelling “I suck at Criagslist? I suck at Craigslist?! No, YOU SUCK AT CRAIGSLIST!!!” He yanked the dial-up modem from the wall and hurtled it at the image of a tiger timidly dressed as a lion.

    Just then the door to his lair opened. A gravelly, old voice boomed down the rotting stairs. “Dickie? Hey Dickie! Are you going to work today? Those pizzas aren’t going to deliver themselves!” His mom took a few steps into the basement and was shocked. What was once her sewing room had been turned, but by neglect and intention, into a dark, gloomy cave. ” Son, what’d you do down here? That’s it, I’m not using my retirement check for your internet no more!”


To be continued when Captain Destructo faces consequences.

Captain Destructo Faces Consequences

    He couldn't believe the charges. Domestic terrorism? How many counts? Captain Destructo had always been good at math, so it only took a few seconds for him to figure a guilty verdict would put him in jail for the rest of his life. He figured the district attorney was trying to look good in an election year. That was the only reason the charges included one count for each of his "victims". The good news was the faux online encyclopedia he'd created to humiliate those who picked on him had changed so much once he launched it that nobody knew it was his creation, so there were no counts from that. It didn't help though, because there was plenty of bad news. They tried bringing charges for each photo on the other websites he created because they claimed the sites gave bullies an online bullying platform that could be anonymous. Thousands of pictures between the backward style site, the photoshop disaster site and the site that distorted people's pictures meant thousands of counts of domestic terrorism. The judge decided to limit posts they could conclusively prove came from his computer, but Destructo had kept each one in a special folder. At first he thought he'd escaped charges on the auction website, but then that prick Craig came forward and explained some suspicious things he noticed about posts that varied wildly from the material sellers had prepared. His vandalism of that site was automatic, so there was no way to count how many posts had been corrupted. The judge outlined a possible sentence of 5 years for the auction site and 1 year per picture for the other sites. Destructo would certainly rot in prison.

    He had no savings from pizza delivery, so he had to put his fate in the hands of the court-appointed attorney. Destructo gave up all hope when they met for the first time. Apparently court-appointed attorney was code for passing the bar exam on the sixth attempt and picking up cases others deemed as no-win. Rather than a name and law firm, "I think we can plead you down to 60 years" was the introduction the attorney gave. Markus Fishbinder, Public Defender, seemed proud when he came back with a plea agreement for 75 years. Destructo knew he'd be dead meat in prison, so it wouldn't matter if he signed the plea agreement or a jury found him guilty and the judge imposed the sentence she had outlined earlier.

    Just as he was reaching for the pen, he heard the door open. "Don't sign that plea agreement." The man in the doorway was wearing a suit that cost more than Destructo's car.

    "Who are you, and what does it matter if I sign or not? Whether I admit guilt or sit in front of a jury, I'll be in jail longer than I'll be alive."

    "I'm Henry Pritchard from the Smith, Pritchard and Pritchard Law Firm. Your attorney let himself get pressured into accepting a plea bargain that should never have been offered. I'm going to take your case to court and get some real results."

    "I think you might be in the wrong place, Mr. Pritchard."

    Reading the folder in his hand, Henry said "Richard Thomas, Domestic Terrorism, enough charges to lock you up for good. I'm in the right place." He put down an alligator skin brief case and gathered up the papers outlining the plea agreement. He held the agreement and hotel pen in front of him as he walked toward the public defender, who backed away from the intimidating figure until he was outside of the room. Pritchard dropped the bundle and pen at his feet and turned to walk back to Dickie, closing the door behind him. "Mr. Thomas, I can assure you after reviewing your case that you won't have to worry about rotting away in jail. Following precedents, I think we can get you out with time served and community service."

    "Wait, who are you again? And what are you doing here? I can't afford..."

    "I'm a junior partner at a family-run law firm, and I'm taking this case at the request of a mutual friend, who's picking up the tab. That's all you need to know for now."

    Dickie snorted. "Mutual friend? Mr. Pritchard, the only people who have mutual friends with me are junior partners at fast food franchises, not family-owned law firms. Seriously, who..."

    "Seriously, Mr. Thomas, that's all you need to know for now. We have to get some info straight. First, we're going to court. Second, you're not testifying." Pritchard opened his brief case and pulled out a few files. "The prosecutor brought up these charges without considering malicious intent, which is a necessary component for domestic terrorism to stand up in the eyes of a jury." Pritchard continued for a few hours, outlining holes in the prosecution's case and loopholes established by precedent. Dickie tried to keep up, but legal jargon was one thing at which he never excelled. He still felt hopeless until Pritchard laid on the table a document outlining conditions for release on bounty. "Put your trust in me and sign this document. You'll be out in time for dinner with your mom." Almost in a daze, Dickie reached for the gold leaf pen and signed.


To be concluded when Captain Destructo finds redemption.

Captain Destructo Finds Redemption

    It took two months for Pritchard to maneuver through courtroom backlogs and other delays, and during that time he continued to refuse to elaborate on Dickie's benefactor.  Finally, the day came that Dickie found himself sitting at the defense table. He was confident at first, but the prosecuting attorney's opening arguments deflated that feeling. Their software analysts had found 1436 different images that they could prove had been vandalized by Dickie. He sure made it easy for them. He didn't expect any of those to be seen by anybody but him and a couple friends, so he didn't bother trying to obscure his digital tracks. As the prosecutor sat down, Dickie began regretting the confidence he had placed in Pritchard.

    "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Your Honor, the prosecution wants to charge my client for domestic terrorism because of 1436 different pictures and software code they claim corrupted attempts by individuals to sell personal items online, conduct online business, or meet others. I intend to show that the prosecution cannot prove malicious intent on my client's behalf. I also intend to show that it is not possible to prove posts corrupted by my client's code would've succeeded as the users originally wrote them. I will finally show that the only charge we can consider against my client is a single case of vandalism because of what he did to online pictures of his senior homecoming." There was an almost audible click in Dickie's brain. Since the first moment they met he thought Pritchard somehow looked familiar, but couldn't figure out why. As soon as the attorney mentioned the online homecoming picture, Dickie figured it out. He had changed the homecoming picture to show him and Emily as the king and queen. Reviewing the case with Pritchard, he had discovered Emily herself had changed it back almost right away, so very few people would've known about it and nobody involved with the prosecution had mentioned it. Dickie started looking around in the audience of the court behind him. Sitting in the back row were Big Bill and Emily. Having seen them face-to-face for the first time in several years, Dickie finally noticed clearly family traits in both Pritchard's and Big Bill's faces.

    Dickie tried to pay attention to the proceedings throughout the day, but his mind kept wandering back to the people in the audience. He kept asking himself why they were here and what prompted them to arrange for Pritchard to take the case. A few things throughout the day caught Dickie's attention, but his mind kept going back to the audience. His mind was so concentrated on Big Bill and Emily that he was completely shocked when Pritchard poked him and hissed "Stand up." Dickie's attention refocused to the front of the court room as everybody stood up and watched first the jury, then the judge walk out. Dickie expected the case to take longer, but prosecution ended their material just in time for lunch. As soon as the bailiff followed the judge, Dickie spun around and tried making his way into the audience to talk to Big Bill and Emily. Pritchard, however, caught his arm and dragged him back to the table. "What's wrong with you? You've been distracted all day!"

    "Yeah, I've been trying to figure out why a bully from high school would arrange for a lawyer to help me."

    "Big Bill's my cousin. He begged me to take the case. He kept saying something about making amends." Pritchard kept talking, but Dickie's mind wandered back to Big Bill and Emily. By the time the lawyer stopped talking, the courtroom had emptied.

    That afternoon, Pritchard spent three hours calling and recalling witnesses and software experts. His line of questioning highlighting the end result of Dickie's sabotage - websites that amused and entertained people - and argued that somebody with genuine malicious intent and Dickie's computer knowledge would have produced damaging viruses or hacked the computers and bank accounts of their targets. During closing arguments it was obvious to everybody that the prosecuting attorney felt beaten, even though he was quite eloquent. When it was Pritchard's turn to close, he simply held up the picture of Dickie and Emily that had been put on the high school homecoming page. "My client replaced the genuine image with this one. What he did was to deface somebody's hard work. For whatever reason he did it, this is the only concrete example we have of an undeniably criminal act - an act that is the electronic equivalent of vandalism. The case of domestic terrorism has absolutely no merit."

    The judge charged the jury with finding justice and excused them to deliberate. After she and the jury left the court room, the prosecution wordlessly set a form on the defense table. "Guilty of vandalism, 6 months in jail plus two years probation and 5 years prohibited from internet access? My client will only accept time served, one year probation. Street vandals aren't banned from buying paint, so he shouldn't be banned from the internet." Dickie still wasn't sure what the jury would decide, so a lump formed in his throat when Pritchard turned down such a light plea deal. He breathed a huge sigh of relief, though, when the prosecuting attorney dropped his shoulders and nodded agreement.

    By the time Dickie and his lawyer had filled out all of the paperwork for the plea agreement, the courthouse was quiet and nearly empty. He was hoping to get to talk with Big Bill and Emily, but he didn't even look around for them. Seeing Big Bill on a bench near the main exit surprised him. Considering their past, Dickie eyed the offered handshake less suspiciously than he thought he would. "Thank you. What do I owe you for getting me a lawyer?"

    Big Bill shook the man's hand with all the warmth and respect he'd held back in high school. "There's no bill. I talked Harry into doing it because I felt horrible for the person I was in high school. I read about the things they'd charged you with and I felt like I was maybe at least partly to blame." Dickie was stunned. He'd never thought of Big Bill as a person with depth enough to notice the consequences of his actions. He felt a little less resentful and a little more understanding toward Emily. "I waited here for you because I wanted to let you know that I regret the things I did back then. The newspaper article said you were delivering a pizza when they arrested you, even though you have a degree in computers. I feel like I helped you fall so low, and I want to help you back up. I own my own car dealership these days, and I sure could use your help. Other dealers have fancy, clean websites that can search for cars. My website is just a picture of me throwing a toy car like a football. I want to offer you a job."

    Dickie couldn't believe his ears. Somebody who once pushed him around was now going out of his way to help. "You'd trust me online, after all I did?"

    "Well, about that, I hope you won't be offended, but not at first. Fool me once, shame on you,..." Dickie and Big Bill ended the phrase together. "What I'd expect is that you would show me every single line of code you write before posting it. That would kinda suck because I’m kinda stupid when it comes to computers, so you’d need to explain what each line does. You'd be working at first on a computer not connected to the internet on a desk in my office, but I think it's reasonable to say after an unofficial probation we could set you up with your own little office and a connected computer. What do you think?"

    Dickie thought back to the prospects he was facing before Pritchard walked into his life and then considered Big Bill's offer. "I just... Well, it seems... There isn't... Ok." As the men turned and headed for the exit, Dickie quietly thought about the other things he could've said. How stupid would I be to turn you down? What kind of miracle fell out of the sky? Am I dreaming? Did I die? Are you God?

    Three months later, Dickie sat in a sparse office at the dealership. The criminal probation was still being enforced, but Big Bill had ended his oversight just a few days earlier. Dickie genuinely appreciated the trust Big Bill had in him, so he put in a full day at the office and kept his nose clean. The evening salesmen were just about to start locking up, so Dickie ended his MMORPG just before shutting down servers and databases.

    "Hi, Richard, do you remember me?" Dickie looked up from his computer and saw the outline of a person. He squinted through the glare of the sunset behind her, trying to make out her face. "Probably not. I was a couple years behind you. You were always keeping a lookout for bullies, so you probably missed seeing me. You even ran right into me one time trying to get away from Big Bill. I'm sure you don't remember, but he stopped chasing you that day because he was helping me pick up what I dropped. I always felt bad about what he and the others put you through, so I used to go to chess team practices and tournaments to cheer you on. But I was too scared to cheer and break your concentration, so I just held my breath and kept my fingers crossed."

    Vague memories of a freckled redhead began to come back. "Melody... something. Melody, Melody,..."

    "Mickler. You probably remember my sister Sandy. Hell, everybody remembers Sandy. She was a cheerleader."

    Dickie snorted. "Sandy Mickler wasn't a cheerleader. She was the cheerleader. Captain of the squad, Miss Popular, the whole nine yards. I remember during senior year the cheerleader lunch table had one person that didn't look like she quite belonged. Not on the squad, all advanced ed classes, skipped sophomore year. Was that you?" The redhead blushed a little, but of course Richard couldn't see with the sunset in his eyes.

    A soft voice crept out from behind the red curls that cascaded down her face as she looked at her feet. "Yeah, my parents always said I deserved to be more than just a wallflower, so they had Sandy drag me along with her friends for a while. They started liking me when they figured out I was a patient tutor." Remembering the experience of being pulled into the in crowd, Melody's voice slowly strengthened as she looked up. "I kept a close eye on the case, and I was really glad to see how it turned out. I'm visiting Sandy and her boyfriend, and I thought I'd come by and see if I could buy you dinner."

    Dickie looked at the picture frame that he had smashed to the ground two days before being arrested. It once held a picture from homecoming, but now had a picture of the bride and groom from the Fefferman-Williams wedding. "I'm just closing up, but let me make one phone call before leaving." Big Bill had told him earlier that week to stop saying thank you. As he reached for the phone, Dickie thought that Big Bill would hear it one more time.

Two Perspectives (His Perspective, conclusion)

    Three days ago we were having lunch at this spot. Tuesday afternoon, almost a year after we met. Somehow, we sat at the same table. It still had Mike and Kate 4ever carved into it, but now it said skank above Kate's name. Guess it didn't work out.

    The jewelry store had just opened up. We were about to walk past it on our way to the cars when I noticed they were having a sale on wedding sets. There was a table outside the store where a woman sat showing bridal sets. She saw us holding hands. Why she did I'll never know, but she asked if I saw a bridal set I liked. Why I stopped I'll never know, but the next thing I knew I was looking at them. I asked Christine if she would like a white or yellow gold bridal set and when I looked up she had gone completely white. She looked dead. Guess that's because of her dark hair and blue eyes.

    Without saying another word I put down the bridal sets, grabbed her arm, and walked out. When we got to the car, I hugged her. She wouldn't let go, but she wouldn't say anything either. I tried pulling away. The only part of me I could get away was my head, but she chased my mouth with hers. Long, quiet kiss. Without looking in my eyes or saying anything, she hopped in her car and drove away.

    I know I ruined it. Everything. It's all done for. I can't believe I was that stupid. Why did I say that? It's their fault. The jewelers. I have to ask that woman why she would ask strangers a question like that. Dammit, too much too fast.

    I guess I was looking at the jewelry store, so I didn't hear her come up behind me. Doesn't matter. I could smell her from the other side of the country. Especially when she's turned on or just out of the shower.

    "Yellow. I want a yellow bridal set. Whenever I get married. I met this great guy a while back, and he never asked me out. We just sorta connected." I felt a hand grab my arm and turn me around. There she was, those beautiful blue eyes tearing away. "He never asked me out. He never asked for my number. He never asked anything. He might never ask me to marry him." When she said that, she took my hand in hers. There at the mall. In the food court. On a Friday evening, exactly a year after we first met at this very same table. I was still sitting down. She was still standing up. I moved to make room for her on my lap, but she didn't sit there. She knelt down before me. "Erik, you and I were there for each other during the absolute worst pain and agony. You're the only person I've ever known who's given me unconditional love. That's the only thing I really want in a husband. Will you be that man for me?"

Two Perspectives (Her Perspective, conclusion)

    We were leaving the food court at Cottonwood when we passed by a jewelry store. Two weeks ago, Erik had to leave early, so I came into this new jewelry store. I spent about twenty minutes asking the jeweler if she’d show me whatever new wedding jewelry she might have. As we walked past the store, she saw me holding Erik’s hand. We were close enough to the store for her to talk to us, so she asked Erik if he saw anything he liked. I nearly choked on holding my breath when he stopped and looked at the rings on display. He really surprised me when he turned to me and asked if I’d like yellow or white gold. Then I saw him blush a color of red I didn’t think was possible. He put down the ring he had in his hand, took my hand, and started walking for the cars.

    We didn’t talk all the way out of the building. I guess I was kind of shocked at the sudden question, and I could tell he was appalled just by remembering how red he’d become. But as we walked, my shock wore off and I started to get kinda mad at him. Here we were, obviously in love. He knew I was crazy about him. I knew how he felt about me. And yet he panicked when smallest thought of marriage came up. I wasn’t getting angry, just mad. When we got to my car, I kissed him. I wanted him to remember the kiss, something to show him I wasn’t hurt or scared off. I guess it didn’t work. He didn’t say anything as I drove off. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw him there, apparently still in shock.

    Well, that was Tuesday at lunch. He didn’t call that night, no email the next day, no call, no email, all the way up to Friday when I left work. We’d agreed to meet here this evening because it was exactly a year after we met at this very spot. As I got close to the food court, I started getting a big nervous. I had to sit down, and I just happened to choose the same table I saw him from for the very first time.

    There he was, fidgeting. He was obviously very nervous. He had his back to me. It was really funny to see. He’d shake his legs, then stand up. He took a couple steps toward the jewelry store, then came back and sat down. He’d look at everybody all around him, but he never looked far enough away to see me.

    Finally, I had to go down there. He apparently was too nervous to hear me coming, so I got to sneak up on him. "Yellow. I want a yellow bridal set. Whenever I get married. I met this great guy a while back, and he never asked me out. We just sorta connected." I thought that would turn him around, but he just sat there. I counted silently to 10, then began to panic. What if this isn’t him? I reached down, grabbed his arm, and turned him around. As soon as I saw him, my eyes started to tear a little. "He never asked me out. He never asked for my number. He never asked anything. He might never ask me to marry him." As I said those things, I saw him smile. One of those smiles that makes me go weak in the knees. I didn’t know what I was going to do until that moment, but then I found all the guts I needed to do what I wanted to do. I knelt down in front of him. In front of the food court patrons. On a Friday night. Only a year after we’d met at this very table.

    At first I just saw confusion as the words flowed out of my mouth. In the span of less than ten seconds, that confusion went to understanding, then to pure love, and finally to complete happiness. I was choking a little on my own tears, so it took me awhile to finish my three sentences. “Will you be that man for me?” As I said the last one, I saw the answer written all over his face. Without waiting to answer, I pulled his lips down to mine and kissed my fiancĂ©e as long as I could.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two Perspectives (His Perspective, part 2)

    That's how it started. We worked close to the mall, so we started meeting everyday for lunch. It was great talking to somebody about the excruciating pain that comes with watching your love, your dreams, your future, your heart sift through your fingers like sand. No, like ashes.

    It didn't start out as love. We were there for each other. Friends. We didn't have the same things in common. I'm Methodist. She's Baptist. I have a tattoo of a cross and "You are my hiding place" on my arm, and she's scared of needles. I like to drink every now and then, and she thinks alcohol in any form's bad. We're opposites. But one day I looked at her and noticed that my heart was healed. I looked down at my sandwich and when I looked back at her beautiful blue eyes, I saw the same realization in her face.

    But we still didn't think about dating. Then one day my office decided to relocate. I wouldn't be working near the mall anymore. When I saw her for lunch that day, I told her I would be working on the other side of town. Not too far, but far enough away that I couldn't have lunch everyday with her anymore. So we agreed that each day, we would take 45-minute lunches. Then on each Tuesday either I would drive to Winrock Mall on her side of town or she would drive to Cottonwood mall on mine. Funny. We'd been there for each other for three months. Through her ex trying to get back with her and me demanding that she forgive but move on. Through me getting a restraining order against my ex because she wouldn't leave me alone. She didn't understand that I can't be her friend after being that close to her.

    It wasn't until her company had her work through lunch for two weeks that I noticed how much I missed her. The next time I saw her, I was going to suggest we date. I didn't get the chance to say it because her lips were too tightly stuck on mine.

    We've been dating since then, oh, about four months ago. We were already very close, we just needed a little push from each other. When we got it, we fell very fast and very far. We still try to meet for lunch on Tuesday. I can't believe I did it. Here I am, Friday night, waiting for her to show up. She and I were supposed to meet here for dinner because it was a year ago that she sat down next to me during lunch. What if she got scared off? Why did I have to do it? All I can think is she's not ready. Or she thinks I'm not ready. Why isn't she here? She has never been late. I know I tossed everything away. Too soon.


To conclude in His Perspective, part 3

Two Perspectives (Her Perspective, part 2)

    It was a month after that before I saw Erik smile. We met for the very first time on a Tuesday. It was early spring. I found out that we worked near and had lunch at the same mall, so we met every day to talk and offer each other a shoulder to cry on. I’m sure I spent lots of time sharing my heartaches with him, and I can only hope I was there for him as much. Exactly one month after I met Erik, we were having lunch at the mall when a young mother of twins brought her babies past our table. Such a sight used to make Erik cry because of what he’d lost with Janette, his ex. When he saw the two boys, he smiled. It was a warm smile that told me his heart was healed. He looked into my eyes with that smile and my heart felt like a frozen lake thawing in a flash. He looked down and when he looked back up I had what I hoped was the same smile on my face. That’s the day I knew I had put Tony behind me.

    About three weeks later, he came to me with news that surprised me. Not because it was surprising news, but because it hurt. He had to tell me that his company was moving to the other side of town, so we wouldn’t be able to have lunch together anymore. For a minute, I thought I had spooked him when I said right away that such a thing wasn’t acceptable. So we came up with this new arrangement. Each day, we take only 45 minutes for lunch. Then on every other Tuesday, I would go to Cottonwood Mall on his side of town or he would come to Winrock Mall on my side of town. I thought my eagerness to keep seeing him for lunch would be a big enough tip, but I guess he just wasn’t ready to start dating again.

    It was really amazing that we had come to mean so much to each other. Tony had tried to come back to me, and I would have let him. But Erik was my rock. I forgave Tony, but changed my locks and told him to move on without me. Janette kept trying to reconnect with Erik, but I was his source of strength through all of that. But he never got the idea that my body would tingle when we hugged or that I just loved gazing into those soft, brown eyes. Finally I got the chance to hit him with a more than obvious sign. My boss had me work through my lunch two weeks straight. I emailed Erik and apologized profusely, saying the next time we met would be that much sweeter. When I finally made it back to Cottonwood Mall, I got a little too nervous as I drove around looking for a parking spot. I passed him standing at the front door twice. He just stood and waved the first time, and I think I saw him blow me a kiss the second time. When I finally got out and walked up to him, I shoved all my nerves aside and held his lips (maybe a little too close) right up against mine. He never did ask me out, but we sure were a couple in the malls and in our emails.

    I just didn’t understand this guy. All at once, after that kiss, his emails got so much warmer and he signed them all “love, Erik.” He even said he loved me. But we never went out together. For two months it went that way. Then finally he suggested he make me dinner. That’s when I found out he really knew how to cook, but didn’t have a clue about what a girl wants. They really are from another planet. We dated pretty seriously for about two more months. Our kisses kept getting more and more tender, our conversation more personal. Just last week, he started signing his email letters “love forever, Erik.” Finally, I thought we were on the right track. Then, Tuesday came around.


To conclude in Her Perspective, Part 3

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two Perspectives (His Perspective, part 1)

    You can't unscramble an egg. That's just an expression, you know. I don't know why I did it. What if it was the wrong thing to do? What if she's not ready for such a big decision? What if she doesn't think our relationship is ready? What if she doesn't think I'm ready? I can't believe I did something that stupid. I've always run on impulse. There we were, walking through the mall after our Tuesday lunch meeting. We've been together for a whole year. We started out each recovering from a broken heart. It really wasn't two people looking for a date. I remember I just hurt so much. It was a Tuesday and I was sitting in the food court after getting the shove-off from my ex.
    Anyway, I was sitting there crying, numb. I couldn't hear anything, I had my head down on the table. I wanted to go home and curl up under my blanket, but I still couldn't move. My left hand was still wrapped around my cell phone, the one I was talking to her on when she tossed me away. My fingers were white. I guess in my heartache, my muscles tightened up. There was a pool of tears on the table, and it turned to a small trickle into some kid's vandalism. Somebody'd carved Mike and Kate 4ever into the tabletop, and my tears were filling it up. The bottom of the 4 hit the edge of the table, and my tears were flowing through it onto the floor. From the distance of my conscience, I heard a chair scrape against the floor. A little closer to noticing, I heard somebody mumble something. Somebody close. Something sad. I looked up and saw another face streaked with tears. "Is she fucking another guy?"
    "What?" I heard the word, but didn't realize it was from my mouth.
    "I was sitting on the bench and looking at all the happy people, remembering what it was like before he dropped the bomb. He's sleeping with his roommate's sister. I was remembering what it felt like to worry about too much pda. I was remembering what his hair smelled like and what I smelled when I snuggled into his chest. Then as I was watching people, I saw you on your phone. I saw your face light up when you answered, and I saw you crumble as the conversation went on. I watched all the blood drain from your face. I tried not to watch, but when I looked back a few minutes later I saw drops falling from the table and knew what you had just heard.
    "No, she's not sleeping with another guy. At least I don't think she is. It's stupid, really. She wants a cat and I want a dog. I love cats. But they don't run over and curl up with you as soon as you get home. Stupid, really."
    "Hi, by the way my name's Christine."
    "Erik."

Two Perspectives (Her Perspective, part 1)

    Fidgeting. I’d never seen him fidgeting so much in all the time I knew him. He must be really nervous. Hell, he deserves it! He sure made me very nervous over the past few days. Why the hell did he have to say what he did? Why did he ask if I’d like a yellow wedding set or a white wedding set? I’ve been incredibly nervous ever since he said that, waiting for him to call. He never did. Not once in the past three days did he ease my mind. Well it’s his turn to be nervous.
    I guess he can’t see me from where I’m sitting. This is where I sat when I first saw him a year ago. I had just finished crying again. Ever since Tony’d left I’d cried nearly every day, and that day was no different. I had gone to the mall during my lunch break with my eyes full of tears when I sat here and started watching people. I always wondered what kind of stories other people have, and when I saw him answer his phone, I wanted to know his story.  His eyes lit up when he heard her voice. But then I watched him crumble. He crumbled like a beautiful sandcastle getting hit by a wave. It took her all of four minutes to destroy what he’d worked so hard to build with her. I watched him hang up the phone and sit there, looking at his phone in disbelief. I saw a few tears start to trickle down his face, then he silently collapsed onto the table. In one motion he folded his arms and dropped his head onto them on the table in front of him. I looked away for awhile, but my eyes kept getting pulled back to him. I’d watch for a few minutes until I saw his shoulders tremble just a little. I’d look away, but in only a minute I’d look back and see his shoulders tremble again, harder. After a while, a smaller tremble, then a larger one. For fifteen minutes this happened until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just had to know what she’d done to cause so much pain.
    I got up and walked over to his table. I couldn’t hear anything but really fast and erratic breathing. “Is she sleeping with somebody?” He didn’t respond at all. No new motion, no new breathing pattern, no sign he’d heard me at all. I reached out and grabbed the back of the other chair at his table, pulling it back as loud as I could. The breathing pattern slowed. I remembered how Tony’d hurt me and how nothing registered for awhile. It brought tears back to my eyes. “That’s why he left me. He’s sleeping with another girl.” Finally, a recognizable reaction. The man in front of me looked up, and for once I saw more pain in somebody else’s eyes than I felt in my own heart. I also realized he hadn’t heard a thing I said. “Is she fucking another guy?”
    “What?” I didn’t know a person could paint such a dark picture with just a single word.
    “I was sitting on the bench and looking at all the happy people, remembering what it was like before he dropped the bomb. He's sleeping with his roommate's sister. I was remembering what it felt like to worry about too much pda. I was remembering what his hair smelled like and what I smelled when I snuggled into his chest. Then as I was watching people, I saw you on your phone. I saw your face light up when you answered, and I saw you crumble as the conversation went on. I watched all the blood drain from your face. I tried not to watch, but when I looked back a few minutes later I saw drops falling from the table and knew what you had just heard.” Through my explanation, I saw the haze brought on by his broken heart clear just enough for him to understand what I’d said.
    "No, she's not sleeping with another guy. At least I don't think she is. It's stupid, really. She wants a cat and I want a dog. I love cats. But they don't run over and curl up with you as soon as you get home. Stupid, really." Sure, it’s stupid, but I’ve heard of worse reasons for couples in love deciding not to tough it out.
    I remembered the first day Tony’d hurt me that all I wanted was a friend, and I was sure this person would be feeling the same thing soon. "Hi, by the way my name's Christine." If I could be a friend to him, maybe he could be a friend to me and we’d help each other out of the same hole.
    "Erik."

The Cat part 2

     A man stepped gingerly through the thick trees toward the distant sound. He was pretty sure he knew where he was, but he wasn’t too quick to get to the clearing. He had his arms wrapped around a little bundle, so he couldn’t use his hands to balance himself as he stepped over fallen logs. Every few steps he would stop and lean against a tree. He’d look around and smell the forest and take in the scene. Birds carelessly gliding above the canopy, butterflies flitting about closer to ground level, a couple squirrels chattering at whatever squirrels chatter at. The man smiled to himself as he admired everything he took in. He squeezed his bundle just a little and said “I didn’t think it’d be like this. Sure is pretty.”

     He couldn’t remember how long he’d been walking through the woods, but he didn’t really care. The clearing ahead wasn’t going anywhere, and it sounded from the noises filtering into the forest that his appearance or delay wouldn’t change anything. He leaned up against a tree overlooking a short trail through the remainder of the woods, closed his eyes, and just listened. He could hear behind him the noises of the forest and in front of him such a strange and diverse collection of sounds that none of them really stood out from the harmony into which they blended. He wanted to stay where he was and at the same time he wanted to walk into the clearing. Finally, he leaned away from the tree and started walking along the path.

     The clearing was very crowded. As he expected, nobody noticed his arrival. He had been slowly walking between stationary trees in the dense forest, but now he had to step more quickly between and around the milling crowds. Some people just seemed to be wandering, not noticing anybody or anything. Some people sat on the ground in small groups, absorbed in very deep conversation. Except for the tightly packed crowd on the other side of the clearing, nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. It wasn’t a heavy load, but carrying his bundle through the forest had tired him out. Just as he was about to sit on the ground, he saw a park bench on the nearby fringe of the clearing suddenly open up. It seemed nobody else had noticed, so he stepped between a couple having a picnic and around a person studying the scene. He turned and took a small step back until he felt the edge of the bench push against his knees. Gingerly he sank down onto the bench. Next, he slowly leaned forward and moved his arms away from his chest until his bundle gently rolled onto his lap. “Well, we’re here.” He put his left arm across the back of the bench and started caressing his bundle with his right hand.

     “That’s a beautiful cat.” This voice sort of took the man by surprise because he didn’t see anybody else sit down, but it was so soft and kind that any shock faded away before the speaker finished. Juan de Dios Garcia looked to his left and saw what he thought to be the oldest person alive. The hands and the skin on the face showed untold experience and wisdom, but despite a weary expression the eyes sparkled with what seemed to be misplaced youth. “May I pet him?”

     “Uh, well, it’s been a long journey, and he’s very fast asleep. Go ahead and pet him, but please be very gentle so you don’t disturb him.” Juan watched as the feeble old man slowly scooted a little closer and then very gently rubbed a gnarled hand across the sleeping form’s tail.

     “This beautiful animal must really love and trust you to just sleep so calmly amidst all of this din.” Juan looked away from the cat and his new companion to survey the crowds in the park. He saw that some people were just watching, some people were conversing quietly with each other, some people were jogging through the park, some were talking very animatedly, and a few seemed just to be walking around looking a little lost.

     “Like I said, it was a really long trip. My name’s Juan.” He looked over at the man and noticed that he had stopped petting the cat and seemed to be watching others in the crowd, too. The man didn’t acknowledge his introduction, so Juan thought maybe he didn’t hear. Well, that’s fine. No telling how long they’d be sitting here, and he didn’t want to try too hard talking to somebody who was hard of hearing.

     The man passed his steel blue eyes over the crowd. “Yeah, quite some din. Nearly too much to hear yourself think, but I still find this park bench relaxing. I come here occasionally, and usually I see the same people. That couple over there comes I think as often as I do. Come to think of it, maybe they never leave.” The man jabbed at the couple sitting on a blanket with such speed that Juan thought the old man would just follow his arm off the bench, but he seemed to be stuck to the back of the bench. “Yeah, really crowded today.”


To be continued in The Cat part 3

The Cat part 1

Some of my stories will be pretty long. They're broken up into smaller posts. The right border of the blog has a section called Story Groups. The blog posts that come together to make one story are combined into pages given the title of the story. This is the first chapter of a story I'm working on.

     "My last storm," the man thought. "Wish I could go outside and feel the rain on my face." He could see rain streaming down his window, but he couldn't hear the ferocity of the storm. The extra-thick panes of glass muted the sounds of the howling wind and the pounding rain, and all but the closest lightning strikes were completely hushed. He had been feeling this in his joints all day, and now the knowledge his joints would no longer forecast weather mingled bittersweetly with the knowledge that he would never sit in the lounge and watch thunderheads grow and roll in.

     He kept the thermostat for his rooms pretty high so he was always warm, but even under his thick afghan he suddenly felt a chill. "Meph? Is that you?" He sat a little straighter in bed and looked around. Out from the shadow under the window peered a pair of faded yellow eyes. "Meph, if you need to go, it's ok. I'll be along soon." The faded yellow eyes dimmed and then came back as the old cat blinked. He lived a very long life full of energy, almost as a kitten his whole life, but now even blinking seemed to take an enormous amount of energy. The faded yellow eyes dimmed and brightened again, then slowly sank as Meph rested his chin on his paws. Over the past several days his purring had changed from an almost silent, smooth hum to a loud, grating rasp. The rasp slowed down as the faded yellow eyes dimmed. Despite his age, the man could hear the rasp slow down and stop. The faded yellow eyes dimmed, and then disappeared for the last time. "Thanks for sticking with me this whole time, old friend. I'll see you soon."

     The man fumbled around on his head board until he brushed against his call button. He pushed it twice and then waited. Shortly thereafter a soft tapping came at the door. When it swung open, at first a harsh bright light from the hallway poured in. Then, a gigantic shadow blotted out most of the light. A voice full of respect and honor boomed through the rooms. No matter how quiet the orderly tried to be, his voice always filled the room. "May I help you, Mr. Garcia?" This wall of a man was always respectful of each resident, but it seemed he gave extra deference to Juan de Dios Garcia.

     "You can take Meph away now, Tiny. Please call my kids and tell them they've got two, maybe three days." The harsh light from the halls flooded the room again as the gigantic shadow moved to the window. Juan watched as the orderly stood there, looking down at the cat bed. This orderly, a six-foot, nine-inch, 376-pound wall of a man, stood there quietly with his back to his favorite resident for a moment. Knowing how much Meph meant to the orderly, Juan watched without surprise as the huge shoulders suddenly trembled quietly. Slowly, the orderly bent down and reverently scooped up the entire cat bed. Cradling it as if he were holding a sleeping infant, he turned and slowly moved to the door.

     "Yes sir, I'll call them right now."


To be continued in The Cat part 2

Monday, May 9, 2011

Critique of modern art

This writing only make sense if you see the YSaC post that inspired it.


    Ah, finally a quality example of the newest school of art – water stain. There are several methods of accomplishing a “water stain” school painting. The most common is by taking several pipes, each of a different metal and well-rusted as well as assorted widths and lengths, and hanging them over a canvas that is propped at an angle on the floor. The artist then plugs the bottom end of each pipe almost completely and fills each pipe with the liquid of his or her choice. The liquid slowly leaks out of the bottom of the hole and leaves mineral stains on the canvas. The outcome is unpredictable because different amounts of rust leave different amounts of mineral and different colors are achieved by different liquid types.
    A less-common method is called NPD, for newspaper print dye. Some artists wad up pages from the newspaper on their canvas and then hose down the ad so the ink runs onto the canvas. Newcomers to this art form really enjoy themselves because they get to read the Sunday funnies, but their attempts are laughed at by those in-the-know because the pattern left by the Sunday funnies is too recognizable and formatted. The posers in this sub-genre use only the newspaper ad section because of the bright colors. Those a little more trained do include a few strips of ad paper, but that’s just for the striking dissonance of bright dye running over the gray of the newsprint that occasionally gets stuck to the canvas. Those on the farthest fringe of this sub-genre actually piss on the newsprint. Depending on how much and what they’ve had to drink, the urine stains and the dye stains both complement each other and clash in the most jarring way imaginable. These rare pieces of art are the most valuable, but buyers are ashamed to hang them on display because they smell like – well, like wino piss.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Midnight visitor

The following was inspired by a post on YSaC. A user of craigslist was looking for a volunteer willing to dress as Satan to scare a kid into behaving better.


[Ding-dong].


[Ding-ding-ding-dong].



[Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-dong].




    The impatient hand finally released the doorbell button when sound started emanating from the darkened house. The shadow on the doorstep, shrouded in a foul-smelling mist, took a bit of a step back. The door swung open and harsh light spilled out into the inky blackness. The man standing inside the doorway tried to focus through the haze of alcohol clouding his brain, the stench of used crack pipe coming from behind, and the acrid reek of sulfur that hit him in the face as it spilled in from outside. His anger at the 3 AM disturbance at first perverted his face, and then perverted his language. “Exactly what the fuck do you want -” realization dawned on the man’s face when he saw a scarlet-cloaked figure surrounded by a sinus-choking mist – “oh, it’s you. Great costume.” The homeowner’s eyes narrowed because of the brightness of the light he’d turned on. That, combined with the chemicals muffling his brain, prevented him from seeing finer details of the scene. He overlooked the nearly skeletal visage of his midnight guest and a horde of glowing eyes cowering just outside the halo of light cast by the bare bulb in the hallway. “What the fuck are you doing here at – “the man’s eyes changed from sleepily narrowed to a focused squint as he looked at the cell phone he pulled from his pocket – “three in the morning? Johnny’s not even here. Spending the night with his friend what’s-his-name. I wish he wouldn’t hang out with that guy, ’cause some day Johnny’s gonna want to go to church with him, and Sunday’s my day! Sleep, football, and beer. The other six days I already get up too early and bust my ass. That’s mine.”

    At first the man inside the house just heard a cold rasping, like the sound of a train’s wheels sliding across the track immediately after the brakes were fully applied. Slowly, he began to realize the figure was talking. “Hey man, clear your throat a little. I can barely understand you.”
The skeletal visage pinched inside itself and growled, and then spat a lump onto the faux wooden deck. The deck began to smoke and sizzle as the lump burned a hole through the material. “Not here for Johnny.”

    “Sure you are. You’re answering my craigslist ad, right? Came to scare my kid straight? Little prick finished my last pack just before leaving to his friend’s house, and I can’t see straight enough to find my keys and go into town for another pack. Have to wait until tomorrow to get more smokes.”

    “Not here for Johnny, we’re here for you. See, I’ve got a bet with goody-two-shoes -” the figure mockingly folded his hands and rolled his eyes as if he were looking to the sky and saying a prayer to somebody he resented “- about nature vs. nurture. I believe people are naturally evil, but that smug little prick – “the figure shook his gnarled claw of a hand in the same direction he sent his mock-prayer “- believes people are good on their own. Well, your kid gets to be a test case. You’ll be mine eventually anyway, so I got to come up here and pull you out of Johnny’s life. I don’t think anybody’ll give him a second look at the shitty orphanage they’ll send him to, so he’ll be left to himself to blossom into a bastard prick of the greatest potential.”

    The shadow moved a little to the side and the cowering eyes began to swarm into an army on the march. The homeowner finally noticed them only when the first line of otherworldly troops appeared in the light. As on cue, each troop brought its left arm up to shade its eyes for a second, but began growling and kept marching forward after lowering the arm again. Students of history would be reminded of the children working in coal mines during the Industrial revolution, but fans of sci-fi would think about vaguely-shapen globs of flesh-eating ooze. The first line of troops seemed to trip right at the man’s feet, but his eyes shot wide when the individual black forms seemed to leak into a single puddle of smoky tar at his feet. Slowly the tar puddle grew as the man stepped away, first in confusion, then in mild fear, and finally (when advancing tar splashed onto his feet) sheer terror. He opened his mouth to scream, but ended up choking and spitting up some of the tar that was taking over his body from the inside. As he repeatedly coughed up burning tar, the homeowner slowly sank into the puddle of goo. Grabbing for anything he could use to stop his descent, he began to resemble a prehistoric woolly mammoth panicking as it is sucked into a tar pit. Two more lines of troops added their size to the growing puddle, and then the shadow on the doorstep waved his hand. Even though front line of marchers couldn’t see the motion because the shadow was behind them, they all stopped on cue. They had cowered in the darkness before their marching order and then stood and walked proud and erect like elite soldiers during the attack, and now that the march was over their pride slowly faded from their stance as each shape slunk away from the light and began cowering again in the darkness. A skeletal arm reached out from under the scarlet cloak and grasped the doorknob, pulling it closed. A sound escaped from the bony throat. If anybody had been around to hear, they wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it between a chuckle and a growl. As the door closed and the light faded, the remaining soldiers changed from cowering in darkness to whimpering out of fear and love at the fringes of the scarlet cloak. “Well done, my children.”

    Eleven hours later, Johnny walked through the door. “Not even home”, he thought as he realized the house was empty. As young as he was, he didn’t notice the lingering aroma of sulfur mingling with the ever-present tobacco and cocaine smells.

A lab employee refuses a donation

[RING]

[RING]

    Dr. Frankenstein's body shop, you ice 'em, we splice 'em, Igor speaking.

[other end of call]

    Delivery? Well, depends. Where from?

[other end of call]

    That four-alarm fire? Sorry, afraid we can't take 'em.

[other end of call]

    Why? Well, last time Master tried using burned corpses was the same night as the big party we had, and there was some confusion, and the caterers accidentally served some of our surplus parts to the guests. Food Safety came by, and man, you should've seen the mess. The townsfolk call him a mad scientist, but man, that night he was off his rocker P I S S E D!!! He wasn't even that mad the time animal control picked up his weimelabracockershephermastidoberman creation. When they decided to put down ole Spot they pumped that poor dog with all of their supply of barbituate and he still kept wagging his tail like crazy. Man, they really freaked out when it fell off. Of course then they knew right where to take him. They also billed Master to resupply their cabinets. You know, come to think of it, the bill was the only part about the dog ordeal that bothered Master.

[other end of call]

    Sorry, I can't tell you what to do with all them corpses. The only other time Master accepted a donation of cadavers from a fire it smelled like bbq for months down here. Poor Master almost went full-on vegan after that one. He couldn't eat any red meat for at least two years. He's only recently been able to start eating brats again without his eyes closed. The only publicly-donated corpses we accept now are from horse and buggy accidents. The bigger the better. One time we received a shipment of corpses from a 4-buggy pileup. Man, those buggies musta been going crazy fast. Some of the body parts we put together sure looked like they used to belong to horses. You know the mayor? 19-inch-long neck, buck teeth, not that bright? Yeah, he came from our shop. We -

[other end of call]

    Yeah, but -

[other end of call]

    I didn't-

[other end of call]

HEY Now!! Don't blame us! Sure, we built him, but you're the dumbasses who voted for him!

[other end of call]

    Ok, alright, apology accepted. Now guillotine executions are fun too, but with this new aristocracy and fewer public uprisings we're not seeing so many of those any more. Several years ago there were 12 different beheadings all on the same day, some royalty, some from the debtors' prison, we just had a real ball. We actually attached an aristocrat's head to the ass end of a leprous beggar. Master just wanted to see if the spinal cord could operate in either direction. We managed to reanimate her, too. Oh, yeah, the aristocrat was a real lady but the beggar was some crusty old guy. Man, she pooped out of her mouth, died again out of pure shock! Comic genius. The night Food Safety shut down Master's party because of the catering confusion, man, all I could do to cheer him up was pull ole head-ass-gentry out of the deep freeze and make her dance around like a doll on strings. Fun times.

[other end of call]

    Listen, I'm sorry, I can't help you. I know you gotta offload those corpses, but I just can't do it. I know Master'll turn me into one of his creations if I accept just one more even slightly singed corpse. Can't do it. But I tell you what, two castles over I hear some dreadful howling about once a month. I think the Talbots will take 'em. Seems like they've got some sort of monster they need to feed.

[other end of call]

    What kind? I don't know. All I know is a couple weeks after they moved in something broke into our lab in the middle of the full moon night, ate most of our fresh supplies and some of the used bits. Pretty sure whatever it was came from their place, 'cause the next day there was a trail of severed feet, hands, a scalp or two, even found half of one butt cheek. Trail led straight to the Talbots' door. After that, I've noticed game population dropping way the hell off. Three days ago, I woke up and found all of the sheep on the glen torn to shreds and half eaten. Maybe they can use 'em.

[other end of call]

    Yeah, sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Thanks anyway. But hey, if you hear of any beheadings, we’d sure love to receive those bodies. We have real fun with ‘em, so keep us in mind, ok? Thanks for calling. [end call]